14 – Nancy: Yes, for years and years, everyone talks about how Nancy should be relegated. They aren’t in the most exciting market in France. They might be located in the middle of nowhere. But still, they have been able to stay in France’s top flight during years in which relegation seemed certain.
Going into this year, one could easily put Nancy in the relegation zone yet again. As far as the transfer market, Nancy didn’t really do anything. In fact, they lost Julien Feret and Alfred N’Diaye, which will hurt a little. But as far as transfers coming in, Nancy mostly went with younger players that the jury is still out on. They were able to retain Alexandre Cuvillier from loan, but that was about it.
But there was one big pick up for Nancy, and that is coach Jean Fernandez. After leaving Auxerre, it was a safe bet around Ligue 1 circles that Fernandez was going to go to Bordeaux, a team in which he played for two-year. Instead, his move to Nancy was both a shock and a head-scratcher in football circles. Does he know something that we don’t? Nevertheless, he has always had the eye to find some stunning talent and turn them into superstars. Is that what he is going to do at Nancy?
With the only talent coming in is that of younger players, or players that really don’t have a starting background at football’s top flight, it will be important for players that were with Nancy last year to pull up the boot straps and show what they have. As of the time of this article, Youssef Hadji is still with the organization. Still, there is talk that he will be leaving shortly.
If Hadji leaves, who will have to carry the team on their shoulders? As of right now, it looks like Marama Vahirua will have to step up for the offense. He does have the talent to score some goals, as he showed at Lorient in the past. But did Kevin Gameiro make him look good? We shall see what he can do this year at Nancy. Otherwise, we might see a ton of younger players coming out of the woodwork for Jean Fernandez’s side.
Nancy is one of the most unpredictable teams in Ligue 1. If Hadji stays, they might be in better shape. But still, I trust that Fernandez will be able to squeeze every ounce of talent out of his players that he has available.
13th – Brest: Last year was a roller-coaster ride for Brest. First they stated off on a high, then finished with a low. At the end of the season, it was unknown if they would fall back into Ligue 2. But luckily, they were able to stay afloat.
Like many of the teams on the bottom half of this prediction table, Brest didn’t bring in many players. The biggest name would have to be Jonathan Zebina, which will help the Brest defense. Other than that, most of the players are younger and unproven at the larger European level.
While they didn’t bring in too many players, the important thing was that they were able to retain players that many thought would depart. Last year, one of the biggest Ligue 1 introductions to the footballing world was Nolan Roux. After the season ended, there were many transfer rumors about him moving to either another team in France or to England. But, as of right now, he remains at the team. While he is demanding a transfer this summer, it seems as if every deal is falling through. If Roux does stay at Brest, the question is how will he act. Will he be like Dimitri Payet, a cry-baby until the end, or Kevin Gameiro, who played his heart out for Lorient even though he asked for transfers both last summer and winter.
But Roux isn’t the only important part of this team. Bruno Grougi, Romain Poyet, Benoît Lesoimier, Oscar Ewolo, Omar Daf, Mario Lička and Tomáš Mičola are all part of an important core of players that will help Brest possibly become one of the “Best of the Rest” teams. The question is if this team will be able to survive if Nolan Roux is to depart. I say yes.
12th – Bordeaux: Remember the days when Bordeaux was a force to be reckoned with? Remember when they had Laurent Blanc, Yoann Gourcuff, Marouame Chamakh and other talented players? Yeah, you can kiss those days good-bye.
Last year, Bordeaux had a chance to rebuild their team. Chamakh had already left for Arsenal and Blanc was now the coach of the French National Team. All the talk around the Ligue 1 circles was who was going to replace Chamakh. Of course, the biggest name to be floated was Kevin Gameiro. And, of course, he never came. Eventually, Yoann Gourcuff left for Lyon, making Bordeaux even weaker. And now with the departure of Alou Diarra and Fernando, Bordeaux are just a skeleton of their former selves, and look to have no ambition to move forward.
Like with other teams, the departures far outweigh the arrivals. But this has been, as James May said on Top Gear one time, “a slow accident happening in slow motion”. Now it is just a matter of time before this car falls off a cliff.
Offensively, Bordeaux are done. Anthony Modeste continues to be their star up front. And, no matter how you slice it and dice it, he scored a lot of goals from PKs, not skill. Fahid Ben Khalfallah, who was also expected to bring a little flair to Bordeaux, was far from impressive last year. The only hope that Bordeaux have in producing any offense is from Jaroslav Plašil, who continues to impress even when he is surrounded by an inferior team, and Cheick Diabaté, who could actually be one of the preseason favorites for the Young Player of the Year award.
As far as defense, Bordeaux still has some quality. And while many of us that follow Ligue 1 do like Benoît Trémoulinas and Matthieu Chalmé, these guys are better at bringing the ball from the back instead of making stellar defensive plays.
With the lack of offense, this will continue to pile pressure on the defense. And the players that will have to step up are Cedric Carrasso, Michael Ciani and Marc Planus. Carrasso continued to show last year why he is France’s #3 keeper (but should be #2 I personally think). But even with Carrasso standing on his head, he will still need defensive support. The biggest problem that Bordeaux have in defense is a healthy Planus. Throughout his career at Bordeaux, Planus has been injury prone. It is almost a safe bet to say that he could miss 10 matches this season because that seems to be his average. If this happens again, Ludovic Sané, who can have great matches followed by really poor matches, might have to play back and will need to step it up.
The situation in Bordeaux is that the organization doesn’t look like they want to take football seriously anymore. They could have had Kevin Gameiro, they passed. They could have had Jean Fernandez, they passed. True, me saying “they passed” is pure speculation, but they never even try to show that they even care. Last year, the fans at Bordeaux showed they were pissed, and rightfully so. Just don’t blame the coach this year…he can only work with what he has.
11th – Valenciennes: For the last few years, Valenciennes has easily been one of the most unpredictable teams. They do move all over the place. But, like Nancy, they have been able to stay in France’s top flight of football over the last few years. Now, they might be able to make the next step forward.
Valenciennes is nearly in the same boat as Brest. Yes, they did lose Milan Biševac to PSG, and they have only added two players during the summer. But the biggest issue for VAFC is that they didn’t lose any big names, which will help them move to the next level.
Valenciennes, while not having a superstar loaded team, does have a nice balance of both offense and defense that could possibly make them a force in the coming Ligue 1 season. At defense, VAFC aren’t afraid to take chances and like to knock around players from time to take. As far as the attack, keeping Gregory Pujol up front with Gael Danic helping the transition play makes Valenciennes a threat on the counter attack.
VAFC could be one of those teams to watch this year. Don’t be surprised if they take a peak at the top six this year, similar to Sochaux’s rise last year. They have the talent. The big question is if new coach Daniel Sanchez can pull it off. He has an impressive youth and assistant coach record, but how will he do at the helm of a midtable Ligue 1 team?
10th – Evian- Well, the water boys made it from the Championnat National two years ago to Ligue 1 contenders this year. And while they started last year strong and rarely looked back in Ligue 2, the top flight is a little different. Ask Caen.
Unfortunately, when talking about Evian, I have to use an American sports reference, because it fits so perfectly. Many of you might be lost on this one. I just ask that you take some of the names and teams I mention, Google them, and you might get an idea of what I am talking about. So here we go.
Here in the United States, because we don’t have a relegation system in any of our sports, we have a lot of expansion teams to help build our sport’s leagues. When these teams started their first year, they always get players that were superstars in the past, but maybe a little past their prime now. For example, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team started play in 1998. During that first year, they acquired Wade Boggs (now in the Baseball Hall of Fame) and Fred McGriff (hopefully to be in the HoF in the future). Both of these players were past their primes. Boggs was good in the late 80s and McGriff’s best days were in the early 90s. Yes, they were still able to play, but Boggs, who was always known to have a very high batting average, saw his average drop to .280, which is about average for a MLB player. But these guys were brought to the team to help sell seats, sell merchandise and promote the team in general.
I see the same type of system being used at Evian. You could call Jeromy Leroy your Wade Boggs and Sidney Govou your Fred McGriff. While both players can still play a decent game (when sober, Sidney), have they been added to the team more for promotion than actually playing? Leroy, while I like him, can’t have many more years left in him. And with Govou, he will more than likely be transferred next year for getting drunk and hitting on tourist women in Lausanne who are there for a ski vacation.
But this aside, how will the team fair? Overall, they do have a good balance, much like Valenciennes. They have an offense which requires both the midfield and strikers to work together. This is where both Leroy and Govou can play an important part. And as far as their defense, I would consider them average, nothing to write home about, but not poor either.
Evian, being their first year in Ligue 1, would be happy with a mid table finish. Considering a lot of teams will be left out to dry after all the transfers are over, Evian have shown that they know how to plug the holes in their team. Now, will they be able to compete at the highest level?
9th – Toulouse: My team can never get a break. Yes, we did have a good season a few years ago when we made it to the Europa League, and then blew it. But still, Toulouse has built their home at mid table, and don’t seem to be moving for a while.
As far as the transfers, Toulouse were able to address some of their issues. Yes, they did lose Mauro Cetto, which is a blow in the central defense, but overall the team stayed intact. The biggest question that needed to be answered was regarding offense. And luckily for Toulouse fans, the team was able to address those worries. The addition of Emmanuel Rivière and Umut Bulut, both proven offensive players, shows that maybe Alain Casanova is flirting with the idea of going with two forwards. To my recollection, I think he has only done this twice, of maybe even once. But the fact that they are bringing in two offensive players shows that they are now looking to balance what has usually been a predominately defensive team.
On the defensive end, the loss of Cetto, along with the lack of quality substitutes, means that TFC might have to push the ball more in order to keep their defensive fresh and healthy. Therefore, there might be a different style of play at Toulouse than most of us are used to.
To start off the season, Toulouse is going to have a lot of injuries to deal with. Etienne Didot, Daniel Braaten, Emmanuel Rivière are expected to miss the first two weeks. But one of the biggest injuries issues that Toulouse fans will be wondering about is the condition of Yohann Pelé. Since both a leg injury and a pulmonary embolism, Pele has been missing in action for Toulouse for nearly two full years. Currently, 19-year old Ali Ahamada has been doing a great job in goal for TFC. But if Pele were to return to the line up sooner than later, Toulouse could actually be a team that makes a challenge for an Europa League spot yet again.